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Istanbul--Gateway to the Orient
Bonnie Siemens

Standing at the rail of the ferry as the twinkling lights of the city emerge, one sees a ruby-red sunset behind a sea of minarets. The view creates an indelible memory of Istanbul, bridge of the Occident and the Orient, city of myth and magic. Its name conjures up fantastic tales of Constantine the Great, Emperor Justinian, Mehmet the Conqueror, and Suleyman the Magnificent. It is a city guaranteed to fulfill travelersapostrophe dreams and lure them back again.

People are the foundation of any memorable travel destination, and the Turks will delight you. They are a handsome, curious, gregarious people who go out of their way to make you feel welcome. You will have shared the hospitality of many cups of tea or Turkish coffee and convivial conversation by the time you must move on. These encounters are guaranteed in almost any shop you visit!

Put on your walking shoes, for this is a pedestrianapostrophes town with a plethora of astounding sights. The Hagia Sophia (St. Sophia Church) is a good place to begin. Built during the Emperor Justinianapostrophes reign, today it is a museum housing magnificent Byzantine mosaics. Just across from the Hagia Sophia, donapostrophet miss the underground cisterns--another of Justinianapostrophes constructs--with dramatic lighting and easy walkways meandering among the 336 columns. It is truly a magical place.

Situated with glorious views of the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Golden Horn is the Ottoman jewel, the Topkapi Palace. This massive complex requires hours to fully explore. The palace consists of three distinct areas: the sumptuous Harem (imagine the tangled web of intriguing tales locked within its walls); the Inderun, which houses the amazing Sultanapostrophes Treasury, and the Birun, where you will view exquisite tile-work in the Cinili Kosk.

From Sultan Ahmet Square, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) vies for your attention across from the Hagia Sophia. The dazzling green, blue, turquoise and red tile-work decorating the interior has the effect of an incomparable floral garden. Behind the Blue Mosque you will find the Museum of Turkish Carpets and Kilims. If you are in the market for a carpet, your education should begin here. In need of a respite? Try the Pudding Shop--a famous haunt of hippies during the 60apostrophes and 70apostrophes. Indulge in a Turkish coffee with a luscious sweet of baklava, lokum, or my personal favorite, sutlac (rice pudding).

Divan Yolu leads to the old city and the entrance to the Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi). Steel yourself for an adventure, for this is where a Westernerapostrophes preconceived notion of shopping comes to a screeching halt. Bargaining not only is expected, it is tradition! It takes practice and patience to hone the skill. The rule of thumb is to cut the asking price in half and let the fun begin. Try never to show too much enthusiasm for the object of your interest. If all goes as it should, you will be pleased with the price, the shopkeeper with his profit, and you will part as friends. Another market not to be missed is the Egyptian Bazaar (Misir Carsiri)--youapostrophell be drawn there by your nose! The intoxicating aromas of spices and their brilliant colors--reminiscent of a Matisse palette--will permeate your memory for a long time to come.

Istanbulapostrophes many other enticing sights warrant several days of traipsing about the city, but eventually the Gallata Bridge will tempt you eastward to discover the fabulous Turquoise Coast and the myriad historical and natural wonders of Turkey.

Bonnie Siemens has traveled extensively and off the beaten track to places such as Turkey, Sri Lanka and Peru, to name just a few. She is a sales agent for TRAX World Tours.. For more information call (888) 340-8729, email or visit its web-site at